Pipeline politics and Canada's 'national economic interests'

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Has he gone too far this time?

Prime Minister Stephen Harper has shown many times over that he has little regard for democracy. I mean, how did we learn to spell the word "prorogue"?

The long record is too wearisome to recount, but the ominous new attack on opponents of the Northern Gateway pipeline has opened a front in his battle against civil society that makes you wonder. Now that we're watching the 1 per cent more closely, will the times still be on Harper's side?

Thousands of citizens are in the queue to give deputations at the public regulatory hearings into the proposed pipeline, which will cut through 1,200 kilometres of Canada's northern mountains and streams to deliver tar sands product to waiting tankers in northern B.C.'s sensitive coastal waters.

According to Harper, this surge of participation is the egregious result of "the use of foreign money to overload the public consultation phase."

He is promising -- threatening, actually -- that his government "will be taking a close look" to ensure that "our regulatory processes are effective and deliver decisions in a reasonable amount of time."

Just the day before the hearings, which began Tuesday, January 10, Natural Resources Minister Joe Oliver upped the ante with an open letter claiming that "there are environmental and other radical groups that threaten to hijack our regulatory system to achieve their radical ideological agenda."

He spares no froth repeating Harper's charge that these undesirables "use funding from foreign special interest groups to undermine Canada's national economic interest."

If this all sounds ironically like a foreign narrative imported from the Tea Party in the U.S., there may indeed be good reason.

Two of the top five richest people in the entire world (according to a December 2011 study by the International Forum on Globalization) are the American Koch brothers. They are poster children for the 1 per cent, and they haven't been timid about making their influence felt.

Among their many political activities, brother David is co-founder of the political action committee Americans for Prosperity that helped bring the Tea Party into existence.

As the New Yorker pointed out in August 2010, the Kochs are known for "creating slippery organizations with generic-sounding names." They are fierce proponents of climate-change denial -- and why am I mentioning this? Because among their many interests, they have a huge stake in Alberta's tar sands.

When Joe Oliver speaks of Canada's "national economic interests," just whose interests is he really defending? The Koch brothers are an example of the really worrisome "foreign" interests involved in pipeline politics.

How will these ironies play out in Canada's public sphere this overly warm January and beyond? For those of us in the 99 per cent, this is no time to tune out.

This article was first published in NOW Magazine.

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